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I think that it was probably initially cultivated

the substrate on the other side when you pull the root out of the ground or when you peel it, or when you macerate the leaves, and you put the enzyme and the substrate both in contact with each other. Voila, cyanide. In fact, in the markets in Liberia, they'll take the leaves, pass it through a meat grinder, and you can actually smell the cyanide as it comes off, as the leaves are crushed.

So this is what it looks like. It's pantropical, initially in South America, then the Portuguese pick it up in the 1600s and bring it to Africa. And the people do what they always do with roots, peel it and boil it. And it's a Native American cultivar.

I think that it was probably initially cultivated about 6,000 or 7,000 years ago. When we talk about co-evolution, what we're talking about is reciprocal genetic influences by non-overlapping gene pools. So for example, we eat a tomato. The tomato and us, we don't share the same gene pool. Maybe metaphorically, but in actuality, there's the tomato genome and then there's the human genome.

But the products of the tomato can influence the functioning of our genomes. And our actions can influence the functioning of the tomato genome. So that's what we call co-evolution, where the evolution of two non-overlapping organisms, one influencing the other, they will merge together.

They will mutually influence each other. And usually we talk about these co-evolutionary dyads, that's where two different organisms come together. But something's really interesting about that, because when you have a successful dyad, it usually attracts a third species, kind of like how attractive married men are to single women?

Maybe it's something that married men give off, and then single women say-- well, the joke is that a guy shows up with a really attractive woman and the men say, I want a woman like that. A woman shows up with a really attractive guy and the women say, I want that guy.

So the idea that people would consume this

and at Berkeley, as you probably know, they always want to know what have you published? Where is it? Give it to me, show it to me. So this whole publish or perish business. So I figured if I worked on cassava, I couldn't lose, because it's full of cyanide.

So I'll either prove it's good for you or I'll prove it's bad for you! [LAUGHTER] It was a calculated risk. And so when I would do measurements of the residual cyanide, even in the cooked product, there was still quite a bit.
But what really got my goat was driving back from Monrovia to the small town where we were living in Liberia at the time, and seeing a woman walk up onto the highway peeling a cassava root and eating it raw. And I thought, my God, what is she doing? She was eating it raw!

So the idea that people would consume this root without processing it other than peeling it was just amazing to me. You can also eat the leaves. These are the leaves, not to be confused with marijuana leaves. [LAUGHTER] But these leaves also contain the cyanogenic glycosides.

Now this is a part of a family of glycosides And you're probably familiar with the glycoside amygdalin from almonds or apple seeds or, they always tell you, don't eat the cherry seeds. Eat the cherry but leave the seeds alone, spit out the cherry, spit out the apple seeds.

And cyanide is ubiquitous in nature. It's so common in plants that we feel that there's probably multiple evolutionary benefits for having cyanide. And this is the cyanogenic glycoside. And as Mark alluded to, you have the enzyme on one side of the cell wall

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